Cautions against overregulating products of New Plant Breeding Techniques

A call has gone to African governments and regional economic communities to strengthen and harmonise their biotechnology policies and biosafety regulations in order to create an enabling environment for biotechnology development and deployment in Africa.

Plant Breeder and Molecular Geneticist, Dr. Emmanuel Okogbenin who is Director of Programme Development and Commercialisation at African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) who made the call during the 23rd virtual annual meeting of China Association of Science and Technology (CAST) held on 27th July 2021 said biotechnology can only make impact in Africa if emphasis is placed on farmer benefits and consumer preferences.

“African regulators should avoid adoption of strict regulatory regimes that will hinder application of new innovations in plant breeding,” he stated, adding that the continent should watch against the temptation of overregulating products of New Plant Breeding Techniques (NPBTs).

Dr. Okogbenin also noted that good policies and governance are required to drive biotechnology uptake and seed system development to achieve Sustainable Development Goals and the Africa Union (AU) Agenda 2063 aspirations on the continent.

He added that for Africa to maximise the benefits of investment and science for improved prosperity of farmers and stakeholders as well as for the continent’s economic growth and development, it is crucial to develop the seed systems for scaling technologies.

Speaking further at the CAST event, anchored by the China Crop Science Society, Dr. Okogbenin noted that biotechnology is no longer viewed as an option but as a necessity that should be deployed alongside conventional breeding methods to improve genetic gains for enhanced crop productivity and value chain transformation in Africa.

“Africa is gradually evolving with advances in breeding; from classical to genetic engineering and now genome editing,” he said.

While citing the successful development and commercialisation of transgenic Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea in Nigeria, Dr. Okogbenin told the meeting that the Bt cowpea, which was released in 2019 for commercial cultivation and officially launched in June 2021 in Nigeria, can improve yields by 70 – 400 per cent compared to the conventional varieties, with reduced use of pesticides by farmers from ten sprays per cropping season to just 2 sprays. The cultivation of Bt cowpea is best optimised under integrated pest management (IPM) strategy.

Dr. Okogbenin also highlighted the TELA Maize project as another success story in biotech applications for Africa where 128 climate-smart hybrids have been released to farmers.

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